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It was recently reported that for the first time, people in Britain living in cities outnumber those living in the country areas. We are in the process of becoming citizens in fact as well as name! Cities however, are not a recent invention. Some have had a long history, and the Bible talks of Babylon, Nineveh and Tyre as well established cities, mostly to draw attention to their sinful ways!

Ants have been living in cities for much longer. They have gone underground to build a network of tunnels and nests and we have only recently done the same with the London underground and Crossrail. In some countries ants have built upwards and created tower blocks (which we disparagingly call ant heaps). They are not just heaps, and contain nests with interconnecting passageways, partly for ventilation in a hot climate. Our cities have also built upwards to find space for living where ground area is scarce and expensive. Nowadays a postcard from New York looks much like one from Toronto, Sydney, Bahrain or Singapore, and you have to look for the name to find out which one it comes from.

The shocking tragedy which took place when fire engulfed the Grenfell tower block shows that we haven't got things right yet. 71 people lost their lives, trapped in their apartments. The full picture will emerge when the report of the Commission of Inquiry is published, but two serious faults are already known. The cladding on the outside of the building was not fireproof, and in fact went up in flames. There were not enough escape routes, and people on the upper floors were trapped in their apartments.

Ants do not use fire in their tower blocks, and the material is mostly sand, which doesn't burn. To prevent it getting too hot in the tropical climate it is riddled with passageways, both for access and ventilation. Perhaps instead of building our tower blocks in isolation, they could be built in clusters, with connecting walkways, providing adequate escape routes in an emergency.

For other wisdom we might learn with profit from the humble ant — turn to Proverbs 6: 6 and 7.

Bob Weighton

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